(15) and No. 7 Cincinnati abruptly lost their momentum after losing to SMU. (LM Otero/AP)
If anyone questioned SMU's 12-0 home record prior to Saturday night, those concerns are now gone. The Mustangs clinched lucky No. 13 in emphatic fashion.
SMU's 76-55 upset of No. 7 Cincinnati in Dallas showed a Mustangs club that could be dangerous at the end of the season.
Likewise, the win showed a Bearcats squad that can become shell-shocked amid an unpleasant mixture of atmosphere and great defense. But more importantly, SMU's first victory over a top-10 team since 1987 proved coach Larry Brown's team could boast serious upset potential come NCAA tournament time.
Much of Cincinnati's troubles against SMU came as a result of preventable miscues, especially in the second half. The Bearcats emerged from the halftime locker room facing a 38-24 hole on the road. Many expected coach Mick Cronin to have whipped his team into shape during intermission, but Cincinnati appeared just as flustered in the final 20 minutes as in the first 20 minutes.
The missteps were plentiful. After a Cincinnati score at the 14-minute mark, SMU launched a full-court inbounds pass over Cincy's defense that resulted in a dunk by Markus Kennedy. Later, after forcing a Mustangs turnover, the Bearcats had the ball stripped and recovered by SMU's Sterling Brown before Cincinnati fouled Brown on the ground. Even after the Bearcats cut SMU's 18-point lead in half with under 10 to play, the Mustangs responded with an 11-0 run of their own.
Frustration defined the Bearcats for much of the night on Saturday, and SMU's defense deserved the credit. These were the AAC's top two defensive teams entering this week, but it was Cronin's squad that turned the ball over 19 times compared to only 17 made field goals against SMU. It was Cincinnati that shot 4-of-24 from three-point land Saturday. Meanwhile, four Mustangs scored in double figures as the Bearcats allowed 76 points on 54-percent shooting.
Despite the SMU student section chanting "Na-na-na-na, good-bye" on Saturday, all is not lost for the Bearcats. Cincinnati entered the night atop the AAC with an 11-0 conference record, and it remains in the lead after Saturday. But SMU's win pushes the Mustangs to an 8-3 conference mark, just behind Louisville and Cincinnati. Maybe SMU's shot in the AAC is still far-fetched. After all, the Bearcats won 15 straight prior to Saturday night and still boast one of the country's best defenses.
But SMU's defense looked like it could hold its own against a number of tournament-bound programs. On Saturday, the Ponies took a big step to reaching the Big Dance, where they could pose a dangerous matchup.